You could hear the daring in the Captain’s voice.
‘So I’m just going to point the front of the boat into the water. You fellas at the front there, are going to get really wet.’
The tourists’ response was polite laughter. He wouldn’t dare. They were tourists. They’d paid money to be on this boat. No one had said anything about getting wet on the Milford Sound adenture. The travel agents had promised ‘wildlife’ not ‘wet through and through’!
I quickly alighted the decks, for the cabin. I knew what was coming next, and sure enough within three seconds there was a huge rushing sound – of water on deck- accompanied by twenty adults squealing.
Yup. Those Kiwis eh, are always up for a laugh!
I paid for the Milford Sound tour as a special treat for My Englishman, way back in November last year. Despite telling all and sundry that Milford Sound was a must-see on the tour of Aotearoa, I actually had never, ahem, seen it myself. My Englishman is a dab hand at photography, and he loves wildlife, so after a little internet research I realised that the Red Boat Encounter tours by Southern Discoveries looked perfect. NO cream teas and smorgasboard lunches and thousands of tourists, just a quiet toddle around the Sound seeking out the real wildlife!
We weren’t disappointed! The Red Boat tour was brilliant. The commentary was down to earth and the skipper and crew went out of their way to get us up close and personal, not to mention, wet! It was an educational day in so many ways.
It started at Queenstown where My Englishman decided he could not go on any longer without the latest doodacky thingame lens for his camera. He dashed to the photo shop whilst I watched the watch face. They had told us to allow a decent 5 hours to drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
‘But it’s only two centremetres’ my Englishman said, looking at the map. I could see he was thinking those in the know were being over cautious. We set off just after 11am and at first the drive was nothing to write home about. Scenic however, it most certainly was. The Remarkables look as if they rise directly out of the fathoms of Lake Whakatipu.Winding our way between them and the deep blue of the lake, all the way to Kingston at the lake’s head was a gentle thrill. I could see my Englishman was thinking ‘easy peasy, we’ll be there in plenty of time!’
…the windy bits caught up with us, as we drove higher into the mountains on our approach to the Homer Tunnel. The Homer tunnel itself is impressive. Built during the 30s it is a fairly crude tunnel that shoots straight out of a sheer rock face overlooking Milford Sound. There’s no such thing as modern lighting in the tunnel, and it drips. It felt like negotiating a fun fair horror ride in a rental car driven by Schmacher’s cousin.
Of course by the time we’d negotiated the mountainous winding road we were rushing to get to the dock before the boat left at 3.45pm. My Englishman drove like a bat out of hell, whilst I did a valiant job of navigating through my fingers. Of course we arrived in the nick of time and settled down into our seats for our cruise. We didn’t sit much. The landscape is too inspiring, you simply cannot take it sitting down.
Of course we checked in with some of the locals. These NZ fur seals were happily sunbathing out on their rock, oblivious to the tourists, oohing and ahhing!
I was only disappointed to not encounter any dolphins on our cruise, but it is after all a true to life experience and I guess the dolphins weren’t keen on swimming in the Sound’s waters which were heavy with mud after the recent downpours. I was thrilled to see however that the tour boat was licensed by the NZ authorities to observe marine wildlife. It’s great that the NZ authorities enforce strict rules about how the tourist boats can interact with the animals. I remember on the dolphin swimming encounter in the Bay of Islands that they were very careful to not encroach on the animal’s habitat, particularly if there were young uns in the pod.
I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, the Nullarbor desert, and the Great Barrier Reef, and I think the Milford Sound should definately be counted as one of the natural wonders of the world. It was almost a spiritual experience standing there on that boat, feeling so incredibly small in the shadow of such huge mountains, knowing that the waters beneath us stretched as deep as the mountains were high.
If you consider the boat in this picture is a decent sized vessel, you can get a hint of the proportions I’m talking about.
The drive down to Milford Sound took us just over four hours, yet the drive back took us around six hours. We finally reached our base in Queenstown at 11pm, so very tired, but somehow so full of awe. I used to say as a student (I studied at Otago University) that going ‘up Central’ changed you as a person. I was young and spiritual and an Arts’ student, so back then my hyperbole was easily forgiven.
I’m older now, and travelled and wiser and less easy to impress, yet somehow Milford Sound did it. Milford Sound was like my Damascus! Who could not be moved by images like these? –
My Englishman saw a t-shirt for me in the tourist shops in Queenstown. It featured a serene South Island scene and was headlined with: No cell phones, no internet, no email, no problems.
For a spot of time, for this geek girl who spends her life writing about The Cloud and electronic marketplaces and things that go ping, it was true. It was absolute bliss!
Where: Milford Sound, South Island New Zealand
Why: Cos I said so. And there’s fur seals and mountains, and waterfalls bigger than the Niagara Falls (truly!)
How much: Trips to NZ from the UK are about £1200 rtn in high season, £700 in low season see Air New Zealand Food and accommodation in Queenstown is relatively cheap and very very good!
Trip it our do it yourself: It’s brilliant driving to the Milford Sound with lots of time and places to stop, though you’ll have to join a cruise boat if you want to go out on the Sound itself. Leave time to take pix at the Mirror Lakes and at the waterfall just by Homer Tunnel. Don’t forget there’s only four places to stop on the road, and during winter you can NOT stop in the valley by Homer Tunnel because of avalanche risk. I reccommend Southern Discoveries for the cruise.